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Iran restructuring its naval forces

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

Iran has reorganized its naval forces to give operational control of the strategic Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz to the naval component of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the paramilitary organization that is playing an increasingly central role not only in Iran's military but also its political and economic life.

Politically favored over Iran's traditional navy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, or IRGCN as it is known, "has capitalized on this status to acquire advanced weaponry and better platforms to develop additional capabilities," according to the study by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence titled "Iran's Naval Forces: From Guerilla [sic] Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy," Fall 2009. The study was disclosed last week by Steven Aftergood on his Secrecy News Web site. Faced with threats of military attacks on its nuclear facilities, Iranian leaders have threatened to cut off almost 30 percent of the world's oil supply by closing or controlling the narrow Strait of Hormuz, according to the Naval Intelligence study.

"Ingressing or egressing warships must pass through mineable waters within the range of a variety of weapons including coastal defense cruise missiles, significantly increasing the ships' vulnerability," the study said. Since 2007, the IRGCN has been given "full responsibility for operations in the Persian Gulf" while the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) was assigned to the Gulf of Oman and the Caspian Sea.

The IRGCN, the study reports, "has grown to be a non-traditional force, focused on preparing to survive any threat while incorporating asymmetric and novel defenses." New bases have been created "to present a line of defense that would prevent an enemy from accessing the Strait of Hormuz and thus the Persian Gulf."

The IRGCN has concentrated on acquiring and developing small, fast boats, some lightly armed and others armed with missiles and torpedoes. Using a mobile, anti-ship cruise missile bought initially from China in 1995, Iran can target any point within the Strait of Hormuz and much of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. The Strait "could be mined effectively in a relatively short amount of time," according to the study. As of 2004, U.S. experts estimated Iran had at least 2,000 mines. Lacking modern mine-laying vessels, Iran had developed nonconventional tactics, deploying mines using commercial vessels and small boats.

The statistics tell the tale. The U.S. Department of Energy estimated in 2008 that the Persian Gulf nations -- Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and the United Arab Emirates -- produced 29.8 percent of the world's oil supply and 29.1 percent of the world's natural gas. In 2007, about 16 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined petroleum products, roughly 40 percent of all seaborne oil exports, went through the Strait on an average of 15 large crude oil tankers.

Iran's leaders have threatened that if the United States initiates military action, the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf would be turned into a "sea of fire" and "200,000 American soldiers will be seriously imperiled in the region."

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